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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Matt Knudsen, Matt Kuhnen, Phil Stepanski and Glenn Villa perform in Sunset Playhouse's production of "Lumberjacks in Love."

"Lumberjacks in Love" falls flat


It is a cause of some wonder why "Lumberjacks in Love" seems to have such a devoted cult following.

The musical comedy, a collaboration of Fred Alley and James Kaplan, born at the American Folklore Theatre in Door County, has certainly been staged a lot and has drawn big crowds wherever it goes.

So, I kept telling myself that there must be something there when I saw a production of the play at Sunset Playhouse, the wonderful community theater in Elm Grove. Sunset sets a high standard unmatched by any other community theater group our area.

But when the final notes were still ringing in my ears, I had a rather empty feeling. Like someone had given me a smartly wrapped present but the box was empty.

I understand that Sunset is not professional theater. One of the actors in the Sunset play was Sara Lessman who had never been on stage before. The entire cast left something to be desired, not from lack of effort but from execution.

A big part of the problem can most likely be laid at the feet of the director, Jill Anna Ponasik, who is an opera director and producer. Curiously, she had the actors facing the audience when singing the songs. Thus singing became something other than an element that moved the story along. It was like a commercial in a TV show, where they say: "Back to our show in just a minute."

The singing was pretty much in tune and full of exuberance. These are people who normally do their singing in the shower or the car. There is not much vocal training, but there was a nice charm to these actors as they step forward to sing even though they kind of drop out of character while singing.

Another problem for this play is the fault of the director.

A key to comedy, any comedy, is timing. In a comedic play that means that you can't stop the action with long pauses between speakers. You have to move it along at a pretty good pace. I can't tell you how many directors I've heard say "Get on top of that line" or "Don't wait after your cue."

And this comedy needs all the help it can get.

I'm not a big fan of stereotypes or poking fun at them. I don't like someone thinking that all British people are snobs, or that all black people have rhythm or that poor people are lazy.

"Lumberjacks in Love" gives us stereotypes of the men who cut the trees. They drink. They sleep. Occasionally they take a little bit of a bath. Some dream of women. Some dream of blue soap, some dream of spitting tobacco. There is almost nothing unique about these characters.

I know there is some kind of reverence for Alley and Kaplan for their work at AFT, but it escapes me. Although there are a few laughs, jokes about body parts and gender bending and semi-risque positions between two men, they grow tiresome after awhile.

Having said all that, the audience laughed a little bit and they seemed relatively pleased with the performance.

There may well be a germ of a funny idea in this play, but it needs tightening and focus to fulfill the promise it offers.


Talkbacks

reviewer92827 | Jan. 31, 2013 at 9:51 p.m. (report)

Although everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I think this review "falls flat". Not only did Begel present an ad hominem argument to support his claim, I also failed to see any actual review of musical itself. I think that "Lumberjacks in Love" provided a phenomenal performance, filled with constant comedy and a wonderful array of musical compositions. To remind Begel, this is COMMUNITY theater and, in my opinion, fulfilled its purpose of appealing to the community. If Begel cannot critique as an impartial Milwaukee community member, then how are we, as readers, supposed to respect his thoughts? I hope to see better from Begel in the future.

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bobsmith123 | Jan. 27, 2013 at 5:03 p.m. (report)

It's obvious Mr. Begel has a beef with Ms. Ponasik since he didn't actually review the show. And come on, stereotypes? What kind of a left wing loon do you have to be to find offense at making fun of lumberjacks? I suppose he was offended by the old Monty Python Lumberjack routine also.

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BegelMan | Jan. 26, 2013 at 2:40 p.m. (report)

Who retired and left you the theatre critic? Oh right, Damien Jaques retired. Everyone in Milwaukee finds Mr. Begel's reviews to be embarassing and devoid of any theatrical insight. It would be better to not cover live theatre than to continue to publish his uninformed reviews.

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